Movies, Drama
3 out of 5 stars

It might be useful to think of 21 as Robert Luketic’s own Legally Blonde in reverse. First the Beverly Hills ditz crashed Harvard Law; now the MIT geeks will have their revenge, descending on Vegas blonds and booze like the most photogenic math team ever. Rather liberally adapting Ben Mezrich’s nonfiction best-seller, Bringing Down the House, Luketic and his screenwriters preserve the excitement and a fair amount of the blackjack strategy—yet somehow the whole exercise plays like a high-tech John Hughes movie.

That element begins with an all-too-convenient framing device: Ben (Sturgess), our hero, is told he needs some “life experience” to win a med-school scholarship. Enter Micky Rosa (Spacey), a professor who cajoles Ben into joining his card-counting operation, because, as he puts it, Ben’s “brain is like a goddamn Pentium chip.” There’s nothing illegal about the team’s system of hand waves, disguises and fake identities, and to the extent that 21 sucks you in, it’s as a thriller about law-abiding undergrads gone down the rabbit hole, rather than a conventional coming-of-age movie that happens to be set at the tables. (A subplot finds Ben, whose age makes the title a pun, having a fling with hard-to-get teammate Bosworth.)

More grating is the backstage intrigue involving Laurence Fishburne as a vengeful security agent; it’s here that 21 suggests less a real-life story than a cut-rate Ocean’s Fourteen. That vibe is crystallized the moment Spacey—who produced—hits the tables himself, dressed like an extra from Easy Rider. Next time, Kevin, just cash in.


Release details

Release date:
Friday March 28 2008
123 mins

Cast and crew

Robert Luketic
Jim Sturgess
Kate Bosworth
Kevin Spacey
Laurence Fishburne
Aaron Yoo
Liza Lapira
Sam Golzari
Spencer Garrett